Innovations in Digital Literacy Programs

Our guest blogger today is Drew Pizzolato, co-manager of NTEN’s Digital Inclusion Fellowship.

What was the first time you were excited to use a computer? What got you interested in learning new tools and skill on the computer? What was your first spark of joy and creativity online? It seems like everyone who wasn’t born using a smartphone has a story about their early days using computers or the internet. While these stories often have common themes, they’re all a little different. We all have our own quirks, interests, and skills that prime us for our spark moment – that first instance where technology becomes an alive, exciting, and accessible world of possibility.  As the co-manager of NTEN’s Digital Inclusion Fellowship, I am lucky to support digital inclusion leaders around the United States.  Fellows join a year-long cohort-based professional development program where they build skills in program management, leadership, and digital inclusion. They spend the year focused developing and implementing new or expanded digital literacy programs. We often brainstorm new ideas about how they can engage new community members. How can we foster those spark moments to engage learners in building digital skills?

Teachers and program designers are driving some of the most fun and exciting innovations in digital literacy programming by incorporating the latest technology and gadgets into their classes. In a recent webinar hosted by NTEN, presenters shared some of the unique programs they’ve developed. Taina Evans from the Brooklyn Public Library described Xbox bowling for seniors as well as an Amazon Alexa Jeopardy session. I’m really inspired by these types of programs. As internet connected devices become ubiquitous and the ways we interact with them proliferate, digital literacy leaders should be looking for new opportunities to connect adults with technology. Not everyone needs to enter the digital world through keyboarding and email. Why not voice controlled AI and virtual bowling?

Similarly, creative program designers are finding new ways to provide learners the opportunity to builds skill in in contemporary digital spaces. New tools with sophisticated user interfaces are developed for users to experience immediate success while intuitively exploring and experimenting features. The simplicity and intuitive nature of these interfaces provide opportunities for new-to-computer users, too. Andrew Farrelly is a 2018 Digital Inclusion Fellow and a coordinator at Rising Tide Capital, a nonprofit that uplifts communities and individuals by empowering entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. To help his adult students build mousing skills, Andrew introduced them to Canva. Canva is a web based design and publishing tool. It’s simple drag-and-drop interface allows students to practice their mousing skills while creating authentic brochures and business cards that they could use for their small businesses. Students loved playing with the tool and creating their own custom materials. Canva, and tools like it, are a fun and easy update on the classic “create your own greeting card/business card/etc.” activity.

So, if you’re eyeing the latest gadget for your own work or leisure, think about how it might be implemented in a digital literacy class. If you have other stories of hi tech gadget and interfaces in the new-to-technology user space, I’d love to learn about them. And if you’re interested in learning more about the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, you’ll be pleased to know that we’re currently accepting applications for the 2019 cohort. Learn more on the application page.

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